Walking through the Narita airport in Tokyo, Japan, my 19-year-old daughter spoke one of her classic “Allison” phrases: “I feel like such an outsider,” she said, “like I’m a foreigner or something.”
I laughed and replied, “That’s because you are.”
Our trip took us into Singapore, an impressive cosmopolitan country justly deserving its title of “The Garden City.” As we strolled past the Clarke Quay, I began praying for the people, including those who would hear me speak in a couple days’ time.
My mind wandered to a series of emails I had received from a Christian ministry working in Thailand. They warned of a rising “sexual tourism,” in which young women and men were often lured into the country with promises of false jobs, and then virtually imprisoned and forced to sell themselves into sexual service for the tourists.
Because I was an outsider in Singapore, I thought of what I was bringing to the country: truth, I hoped, as well as encouragement, a passion for God, and, I prayed, some sense of the manifestation of the risen Christ. All of these things would be good gifts to bring to Singapore, precious splashes of glory that I prayed God would spread through me.
But there is another war within me. Like the “sexual tourists” in Thailand, I could bring something much different: my lust, my pride, my selfishness, or my ambition.
It brought me up short to think about it: Spiritual weakness is real, and it is possible for the consequences of our spiritual illnesses to be far reaching. I can bring lust into a country with me, as well as greed, arrogance, prejudice, racism, and condescension.
Or, I can bring Christ.
Because of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, I can literally bring Christ wherever I go. Paul taught precisely this truth when he wrote in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me….” He also told the Corinthians that we are temples of the Holy Spirit, but these temples can move! Wherever we go, we can bring a holy place of worship and adoration.
But do we? Do you?
Let’s make this thought personal: Every time you enter a room, you bring something with you. Is it lust? If you allow your thoughts to roam into impure places, at that moment, you are creating and bringing lust into your environment. When you walk along a sidewalk, stroll through the marketplace, or gather at a church, what are you bringing with you: lust, or the Spirit of Christ?
When you walk into your house following a long day at school or work, do you bring selfishness, negativity, harshness, condemnation — or the meekness and gentleness of Christ?
When you go to church on Sunday, what marks your manner, more than anything else? Christ, or some spiritual failing?
It was a stunning thought for me to realize that wherever I go, I bring something with me. I can bring Christ to people, or I can bring spiritual sickness, weakness, and sin. I can walk around, casting off splashes of glory or spraying people with showers of sin. What do I want my life to leave behind?
But I Live By Grace!
I often hear Christians take a very self-absorbed view of sin; Because their forgiveness is assured in the finished work of Jesus Christ, they apply a faulty logic: I’m going to be forgiven, so what does it really matter? They never realize how their sin affects others and how it produces a more evil world.
It is selfish to use God’s grace as a reason to not grow in godliness. I can’t think of a single sin that doesn’t have severe repercussions for others. I cannot steal without denying someone something that belongs to them; I cannot abuse alcohol or substances without endangering someone by my intoxication; I cannot lust without dehumanizing someone; I cannot display arrogance without belittling or dominating someone. To say, “Oh, but God forgives me, so what does it really matter?” is to completely discount everyone but myself.
It is also to miss those opportunities where God can demonstrate his purity through us. A friend of mine was conducting an out-of-town business seminar; After the sessions, a beautiful young woman knocked on his hotel room door. The woman worked for the company my friend was a consultant for, and when he opened the door, she pushed through it and walked right into the room.
“You can’t be in here,” he protested.
“Why not?” she asked teasingly. “Are you scared?”
She then acted like she was going to remove her top. My friend kept the room door open and said, “Listen, you really need to leave.”
The woman started talking seductively; She made it very clear, through words and actions, that she was available for any sexual favor of his choosing.
When he insisted that she leave, she finally did something that I’ll not recount, but it was over the top provocative.
My friend immediately and wisely told two business associates exactly what had happened. He explained everything in detail lest there ever be any doubt as to what had occurred.
My friend is godly, but he’s human. He admits he got almost no sleep that night as lingering visions of that encounter plagued him. He couldn’t get her words or the images of the episode out of his mind. He tossed and he turned, thankful that he hadn’t fallen but exhausted from being so enticed.
Two months later, he was back in town, working with the same company, when the provocative young woman pulled him aside. “We have to talk,” she said.
My friend’s heart started racing, fearing the worst. Would she make a false accusation? Would she try to spin what had happened, making him sound like the bad guy?
Her first words put him at ease. “I can’t thank you enough for being the first man who has ever cared about me more than about my breasts.”
My friend learned that this woman had been abused earlier in her life; She had been promiscuous ever since her early teens, and because of her physical appearance there hadn’t ever been a man who was willing to walk away from her advances as she kept re-living the moments of her deepest hurt.
“I’m going back to church,” she told him. “I need to get my life back together. When I finally met a man like you who was more interested in me than in my body, it showed me how messed up I had become.”
Because of the way she dressed, acted, and talked, this woman became a sex object in the eyes of most men. But one man dared to look at her through God’s eyes: as a spiritually injured soul, acting out her hurt. By treating her appropriately, he helped open her eyes, brought her out of denial, and put her back on the pathway to God.
My friend was in a “foreign” place, but by God’s grace, he cast off splashes of God’s glory instead of showers of sin. A man or woman blinded by the idol of lust sees another person as an object of conquest, a prize to be won, a selfish pleasure to be enjoyed. A believer who looks at a hurting soul with the eyes of tender mercy and compassionate grace is able to rise above his worst inclinations and offer an incalculable gift: the presence of Jesus Christ.
What Kind of World?
Back in Singapore, now walking toward the famous Mer Lion, it dawned on me how our “private” battles have a very public effect. What we cultivate in secret shapes the world we live in. Our unseen battles eventually create the culture we are now a part of.
In the last 72 hours, what kind of world have you left behind? Have you sought to be appreciated, or have you focused on appreciating others? Have you resented others’ successes, or have you encouraged people to step out? Have you used people — for private fantasies, for amassing power at work, for increasing your popularity — or have you served them? What kind of world are you creating?
We all have a choice: We can bless this world with splashes of God’s glory, or we can spray it with showers of sin. What will we choose today?
Copyright 2006 Gary Thomas. All rights reserved.